Across the country, there's a movement quietly taking shape to reclaim November 11 as a day of peace, as reflected in dozens of events planned today.
What is now called Veterans Day was originally designated in the US as Armistice Day, the day that World War I ended at 11 a.m. on 11/11. In the UK and elsewhere, it is also known as Remembrance Day or Poppy Day.
President Woodrow Wilson declared Armistice Day:
"To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations..."
and Congress adopted a resolution endorsing Armistice Day which said:
...it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations...
But somewhere along the line, after World War II, those sentiments were replaced with flag-waving, fly-overs and military-style parades that seemed to celebrrate war more than peace, in the name of honoring American veterans. The day was changed to Veterans Day.
This year, from Bellingham, WA to St. Augustine FL, from Burlington, VT to San Diego, Veterans for Peace and others are sponsoring events to reclaim the day as a time to celebrate peace, while honoring those who helped win and keep the peace. Here's a full list.
It is in the spirit of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, with its motto of "Honor the Warrior, Not the War."
Others are participating in official Veterans Day events, like the Santa Fe parade, which has welcomed Vetersns for Peace members for four years. Some VFP chapters reportedly get the most applause of any group in the official parades. In Milwaukee, where I live, we are still barred from the parade as being "political," while pro-war groups and non-veteran politicians are welcome to march.
The Milwaukee parade was last Saturday, so Veterans for Peace members, barred from marching, wore VFP vests and walked the parade route with cans to collect donations for the chapter's Homeless Veterans Initiative, to find homeless veterans and help them get veterans benefits, food, clothing, medical care, transportation. and eventually housing and jobs. The response from parade-goers was remarkably positive, and donations were plentiful, with some 10s and 20s as well as many, many one dollar bills.
We encountered no hostility. One utilities-clad member of Vietnam Veterans of America broke ranks to come and shake our hands and thank us for being there before rejoining the parade. The only hostility comes from the parade committee, made up of more traditional veterans organizations. We will keep working on them.
In the meantime, Veterans for Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War and Vietnam Veterans Against the War will sponsor a Veterans Day observance in the rotunda of Milwaukee City Hall at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 11. The bell atop Milwaukee's City Hall will toll for peace on Veteran's Day as part of the ceremony. Madison and Janesville will hold Veterans Day vigils, and many will join at 11 a.m. in observing the traditional two minutes of silence in honor of those killed in warfare, miilitary and civilians, and pray or express their hopes for peace.